The 12 Best Hockey Fighters Of All Time

An ice hockey fight with a player in a white jersey fighting a player in a black jersey, they're punching each other

NHL hockey demands players who are tough as nails, with raw power and ferocity in every move they make on the ice.  And when players clash, it’s not uncommon for fists to fly as part of the gritty and brutal nature of the game, but that’s one of the things that make hockey the best sport. We’ll go through the best hockey fighters of all time.

Hockey fights are a long-standing tradition in the sport, and even with efforts to minimize fighting in the NHL, watching two players trade punches on the ice is a thrilling spectacle.  While some say that fighting should be banned in the NHL and other levels of hockey (The Quebec Junior League got rid of fighting recently),  it’s hard to deny that some of hockey’s most memorable moments come from two warriors duking it out.  Some players have gained legendary status based solely on their ability to fight; they are the enforcers of the hockey world!

Best Hockey Fighters of All Time

Now let’s take a look at some of the most notorious and intimidating scrappers who ever stepped on the ice! Here’s our list of the best hockey fighters of all time.

Tie Domi

Standing at only 5’10”, Tie Domi is one of the smallest guys on this list, but pound for pound, one of the toughest; he never backed down from anyone, even the infamous Bob Probert, who was an intimidating 6’3”! His lack of height didn’t stop him from roughing it up; during his career, he amassed over 3500 penalty minutes which landed him third among the all-time penalty minute leaders. Domi lasted 16 years in the NHL, which for an enforcer is a lifetime.  

One time Domi was in the penalty box and was getting into a yelling match with a fan; Domi proceeded to squirt his water bottle over the glass at the fan. The fan jumped up on the glass, which fell down, sending the fan tumbling down in the penalty box with Tie Domi; let’s just say it did not end well for the fan who needed stitches after the altercation.

Tie wasn’t just a goon; he had some skill to go along with his grit. He didn’t score a ton of goals but was no slouch either; this forward had a knack for scoring some very timely goals when his team needed them the most, over his 1020 career games played, he recorded 333 points. Domi played most of his career for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and experienced the thrill of fighting in front of 20,000 of his fellow Ontario natives as they cheered him on. He wasn’t the best on the team, but he certainly was one of the fan’s favorite players to root for!

Dave “The Hammer” Schultz

Back in the 1970s, you didn’t get a nickname like “The Hammer” without being able to live up to it.  Hockey was much different back then, in an era known for over-the-top physical play and excessive violence; Dave “The Hammer” Schultz was the poster boy for this style of old-time hockey.  He played on arguably the toughest team to ever step on the ice, The Philadelphia Flyers, also known as The Broadstreet Bullies.  They were so ruthless and notorious that a documentary about the team was made and featured in our article on The Best Hockey Documentaries.

Schultz played 10 NHL seasons, had almost 2300 penalty minutes, and won 2 Stanley Cups with this “goon squad,” led by Flyers legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Now who do you think made it possible for Clarke to score over 100 points multiple times without getting roughed up by the opposition?  The Hammer.  If anyone so much as looked at Clarke the wrong way, they’d have The Hammer coming after them, trying to nail them to the boards!

Chris Nilan

With a nickname like Knuckles and over 3000 career PIMS, or penalty minutes, you know that Chris Nilan never shied away from a fight.  Playing most of his career in Montreal under the most prominent spotlight in hockey at the famed Montreal Forum, Knuckles Nilan and The Canadians won the Stanley Cup in 1986 thanks in part to Nilan’s physical presence.  Knuckles was one of the most feared fighters in the 80s, and despite an average build, 6’0 and 180 pounds, there was no one he hesitated to throw punches against, and his reputation grew as one of the greatest fighters in hockey history.

Unfortunately, Nilan didn’t just fight on the rink, but fought an ugly battle with drug and alcohol abuse during his career and after, but that was a fight he was eventually able to win.  He beat his addiction, turned his life around, and even became a public speaker who told his story to young athletes about what not to do and how easily someone can fall down the slippery slope of substance abuse and addiction.

George Laraque

An ice hockey fight with George Laraque in a red Canadians jersey, he was one of the best hockey fighters of all time

One of the few modern-era tough guys on this list is George Laraque, whose massive 6’3” 245-pound frame can overpower just about anyone who’s daring or stupid enough to take a swing at him.  Laraque played 12 years in the NHL, mainly with the Edmonton Oilers, then he bounced around to different teams in the second half of his career in which he had 1126 penalty minutes.

He was a high-energy player who didn’t score a lot but got both the crowd and his teammates fired up with his aggressive and punishing style of play, especially on the forecheck.  With a background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu that gave him incredible agility and quickness for a man of his massive size, Laraque has a unique fighting style that kept his opponents on their toes; they never knew what to expect when they dropped the gloves with Big George!

Terry O’Reilly

A hockey player, Terry O'Riley jumping into the stands to fight a fan, he was one of the best hockey fighters of all time. The picture is in black and white.

One of the most skilled players in the enforcer category, Terry O’Reilly frequently passed the 20 goals and 200-penalty-minute milestone during his 13-year career, all with the Boston Bruins, where he would later have his number retired and hanging in the rafters.  He was also known as a clutch performer in the playoffs, where he scored some very timely goals when they needed them the most.

His most infamous moment came during a 1979 post-game brawl with the hated New York Rangers, where a fan hit one of his teammates and grabbed their stick, then O’Reilly jumped over the glass behind the bench and into the stands and went after that fan, he received an 8-game suspension for his antics.  His out-of-control nature earned him the nickname “Taz,” after the Tasmanian Devil.  Bruin legend Phil Esposito gave him that name, and he sure was glad Taz was on his team as it kept the opposition from roughing up Esposito because if you touched the great Espo, you have Taz coming after you, and you never knew what he was going to do!

Bob Probert

Next up is the toughest and baddest dude ever to lace up his skates in the history of hockey, Bob Probert!  Standing at a towering 6’3” and 230 pounds, there was nobody Probert was afraid to throw down against, as evidenced by his 300 fights and over 3000 penalty minutes, good for fifth on the all-time list.  There was nothing like a Bob Probert fight to get the crowd fired up and change the game’s momentum with a single fight!

Probert split his 17-year career between two original six rivals, the Detroit Redwings, and The Chicago Blackhawks.  This tough guy could also contribute offensively, with a career-high of 29 goals and 33 assists in 1988.

Sadly, Bob had many off-the-ice issues, including legal troubles and a severe addiction problem that led to his death in 2010 at age 45.  In the 2019 documentary “Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story,” you can learn more about Probert’s on-ice glory and off-ice tragedy.  Despite his downfalls, Bob Probert will go down in hockey lore as one of the most intimidating enforcers of all time!

Dave Semenko

What’s it like to be a bodyguard for the undisputed greatest player ever to play hockey, The Great One Wayne Gretzky?  Dave Semenko can tell you what it’s like; that’s exactly what he did as a member of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, one of the most storied teams in hockey history!  Although he didn’t score much, Semenko’s presence was felt night in and night out by the other teams that had the formidable task of trying to take down the mighty Oilers.  He was rewarded for his efforts with two Stanley Cups and his lasting legacy of protecting one of the most skilled teams ever assembled.  

Semenko’s reputation as one of the best enforces of all time was enhanced when he fought Muhammad Ali in an exhibition boxing match in 1983, which ended in a draw.  Semenko went on to be a broadcaster, assistant coach, and scout for his beloved Edmonton Oilers.  Unfortunately, the one battle he couldn’t win was against cancer, and he died in 2017 at age 57.

Semenko will be remembered as one of the most feared enforcers of all time, but as nasty as he was on the ice, he was equally as generous and kind off of it.   He routinely volunteered his time to numerous organizations and community programs as he was an engaged part of the Edmonton community.


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Marty McSorley

Speaking of Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard, Marty McSorley took over that responsibility after they were both traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 in what will go down as the most impactful trade in NHL history!  So naturally, Gretzky demanded that the young and gritty McSorley be included in the trade so that he could have some protection on his new team out west.  And that’s exactly what he did; over his 18-year career, McSorely accumulated over 3400 penalty minutes as he took over the role from Dave Semenko as Gretzky’s on-ice bodyguard.  

Unfortunately for McSorley, he was involved in two of his most infamous moments in hockey lore!  The first came in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadians.  Late in the pivotal Game 2, McSorely was penalized for using an illegal curve on his stick.  This penalty is rarely called, and nobody ever checks the curves of players’ sticks, so this incident was shocking. The Canadians scored on the ensuing power play and won the game and the Stanley Cup.

The second incident cast a negative shadow on McSorley’s entire career, the infamous high sticking incident.  He chased down fellow enforcer Donald Brashear (With whom he had a long-standing hated rivalry) and hit him with his stick in the side of Brasheer’s head in his temple, knocking him out with one of the most vicious slashes in hockey history!  McSorely would receive the largest fine and suspension of all time which still holds true today.  Despite this ugly incident, McSorely was loved by his teammates and known as a gritty player who would stand up for his team at the drop of a hat.

Tony Twist

Tony Twist played 10 NHL seasons in the 1990s, mainly with the St. Louis Blues.  He was one of the most feared and intimidating players in hockey!  Weighing in at 240 pounds and a height of 6’1”, you could feel his presence when he stepped on the ice.  And there wasn’t anyone he backed down from.  Known for his high-energy style of play and crushing body hits, he was a wrecking ball on the forecheck. Twist wreaked havoc on his opponents until a motorcycle accident and a broken pelvis cut his career short.

Twist contributed to the book “The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL,” which is a must-read for any hockey fan.  The book dives into when and why hockey players fight and gives you a unique perspective of fighting in hockey from the viewpoint of the enforcers themselves.

Dave “Tiger” Williams

How big would you guess the NHL’s career penalty minutes leader is?  If you said 5’11” and 190 pounds, you’d be right!  Dave “Tiger” Williams is one of the smallest guys on this list, but no one was better at fighting and intimidating opponents!  Tiger accumulated just under 4000 career penalty minutes in his 15-year career.

Williams was far more than the traditional “Goon,” like many of the guys on this list are.  He was an All-Star and could score; he scored 35 goals in his highest-scoring season and had over 500 career points.  It’s extremely rare to find a player who could throw punches just as effectively as putting the puck in the net.  That’s why Dave “Tiger” Williams will go down as one of the most valuable and best fighters of all time!

Stu Grimson

Stu Grimson, aka “The Grim Reaper,” is more of a stereotypical enforcer.  His menacing stature (6’5” and 240 pounds) made most players think twice before stepping up to Big Stu!  But he had his share of scraps and had the numbers to prove it; Grimson tallied over 2000 penalty minutes during his 13-year career.

Unfortunately, Grimson was forced to retire after a 2002 fight with tough guy George Laraque due to post-concussion syndrome. Nevertheless, he will be remembered as one of the most physically imposing enforces to ever step on the ice!

Donald Brashear

A hockey fight with Donald Brashear in a red Capitals jersey, he was one of the best hockey fighters of all time

Donald Brashear was the last of a dying breed; he was one of the last enforcers!  He retired in 2010 with 2600 penalty minutes, and after that, there weren’t many guys whose primary role was to fight.  Sure, there were and still are tough guys playing in the NHL, but nowadays, you must contribute and help the team win in other ways than fighting.  

Brashear was definitely a heavyweight fighter; he tipped the scales at 240, stood 6’3” tall, and wasn’t afraid of anyone!  In one game in 2004, he got 34 penalty minutes as he took on the whole Ottawa Senators team and dropped the gloves with Rob Ray, which sparked an all-out line brawl.  The reason for the fight was one of the Senators took a cheap shot on Mark Recchi, the best player on the Flyers.  So naturally, Brashear had to answer the call and stand up for his teammate!

If you want to learn more about Donald Brashear, he’s featured in the 2011 documentary “The Last Gladiators”

Final Thoughts

Will there ever be another Bob Probert?  Will Tiger Williams’ penalty minute record ever be broken?  I think it’s safe to say the answer is a resounding “No.”  The game has changed; gone are the days when two heavyweights would take center stage and engage in all-out combat.  The game has gotten too fast, and these big hulking warriors just can’t keep up anymore.  Sure, we’ll still see fighting, but now it’s with average-sized scrappy guys because the role of the enforcer is gone.

The players on this list will live in infamy as hockey legends for their ability and fearlessness to put their bodies on the line and play every game with over-the-top physical prowess.  We’ll never see anyone this tough again!

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  1. same roberts says:

    Larry Robinson

    nobody wanted to fight him
    Dave Shultz backed away
    one punch knockout Don Salewski

  2. That’s a good call, Larry Robinson was a force! One of the best Dmen of all time and tough as nails!

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